Archive for July, 2009

The Five-Minute University

| Peter Klein |

This clip is making the rounds. How many of you Old Timers remember Father Guido Sarducci? Both economics and business get mentioned.

19 July 2009 at 1:57 pm 3 comments

Lamoreaux and Sokoloff’s Financing Innovation in the United States

| Peter Klein |

Nice EH.Net review by Charles Calomiris of Naomi Lamoreaux and Sokoloff’s edited volume Financing Innovation in the United States: 1870 to the Present (MIT Press, 2007).

Anyone interested in the organization of innovation, and the nexus between finance and the organization and process of innovation, must read this book. All of the chapters are original, scholarly, and packed with insightful gems (truly a font of inspiration for Ph.D. students), and the analysis manages to be both sophisticated (theoretically and statistically) and accessible to a broad audience.  While the volume is too rich to boil down to a single theme, the editors’ introduction does point to a common thread that runs through many of the essays: “… perhaps the most striking aspect of the record of innovation over American economic history is the flexibility that technologically creative entrepreneurs have exhibited in adjusting their business and career plans so as to obtain financing for, and extract returns from, their projects.”

18 July 2009 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

Goldman Sachs, Best in the Business

| Peter Klein |

goldman_sachs_logoThe business of political capitalism, that is. Like Enron, Goldman operates primarily in the nebulous world of public-private interaction. It is the US’s most politically powerful financial firm, skilled at navigating the byzantine regulations governing the virtually nationalized US financial sector. Goldman’s eye-popping $3.4 billion second-quarter earnings shouldn’t surprise anyone; as Craig Pirrong notes, these earnings reflect good old-fashioned moral hazard, with Goldman exploiting its too-big-to-fail status by taking on huge amounts of risk:

Goldman knows it is too big to fail. How does it know this?  Well, the government bailed out AIG not so much for AIG’s sake, but for the sake of big AIG counterparties — most notably Goldman. Moreover, given the conventional wisdom that the government’s primary error in the financial crisis was its failure to bail out Lehman — a piker compared to Goldman — it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it won’t repeat that mistake in the future, and let Goldman go down. So Goldman knows it can get bigger, and take more risk. It is the classic heads Goldman wins, tails the sucker taxpayer eats the loss gambit. If nobody steps in to rein in the firm, it will continue to add risk, thereby enhancing the value of the Treasury put hiding in the equity entry on its balance sheet.

Somebody should be stepping in — but nobody is. Why not? Partly, no doubt, it is Goldman’s political heft. It is likely too that important policy makers don’t want to crack down on a major source of risk capital to the markets in the fear that this would impede a recovery. Even though in reality, that risk capital is your money and mine, with the exception that we have no chance of capturing the upside, and are left with a good chunk of the downside. This is a piece with the hair-of-the-dog strategy being pursued by Treasury and the Fed.

17 July 2009 at 9:29 am 10 comments

Teaching Generation Me

| Peter Klein |

Thanks to Maria Rodriguez for passing along this gem: Jean M.  Twenge, “Generational Changes and their Impact in the Classroom: Teaching Generation Me,” Medical Education 43(5): 398-405. From the abstract:

Methods: This paper reviews findings from a number of studies, most of which rely on over-time meta-analyses of students’ (primarily undergraduates’) responses to psychological questionnaires measuring IQ, personality traits, attitudes, reading preferences and expectations. Others are time-lag studies of nationally representative samples of high school students.

Results: Today’s students (Generation Me) score higher on assertiveness, self-liking, narcissistic traits, high expectations, and some measures of stress, anxiety and poor mental health, and lower on self-reliance. Most of these changes are linear; thus the year in which someone was born is more relevant than a broad generational label.

In the immortal words the Bette Midler character from Beaches: “But enough about me, let’s talk about you. . . . What do you think of me?”

16 July 2009 at 9:24 am 2 comments

Bounded Rationality or Skilled Performance?

| Nicolai Foss |

In my 2003 contribution to the Festschrift for Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter (here), I argued that Nelson and Winter’s main oeuvre, their 1982 book, An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change, is much more about tacit knowledge than about bounded rationality. The notion of routines is intended to capture the firm-specific and tacit character of productive knowledge rather than heuristics, satistificing search, and the like (these may not be opposed, though).

I am reading Great Minds in Management at the moment (highly recommended!). In his chapter, “Developing Evolutionary Theory for Economics and Management,” Sidney Winter seems to agree:

Skill provides a compelling model of effective behavior that is different, and deeply different, from what we are told either by theories of rational decision or by behavioral theories featuring ‘bounded rationality.’ As far as I can see, the latter theories do not lead one to expect that the word ‘awesome’ will ever be needed to describe human behavior” (p. 533).

Indeed, as my frequent co-author, Teppo Felin, argues, bounded rationality is almost always about people’s foolishness (notably the heuristics and biases literature), rather than about how and why people actually cope, sometimes quite successfully, with most of the decision situations they confront. It is about decision failure, rather than decision success (possibly premised on the implicit assumption that the standard model of rational decision is the only existing model of decision success). The problem with Winter’s alternative, namely that of behavior as skilled performance, is that it seems unclear what are the available models. Skilled performance seems as arbitrary as bounded rationality.

15 July 2009 at 6:34 am 11 comments

Kline Mystery Solved

| Peter Klein |

Thanks to Maureen Kline for solving the Peter Kline mystery:

Hi, just came across this post although it’s over a year old and you have surely solved the mystery by now; the “real” Peter Kline is my father, who currently lives in the Washington DC area (Silver Spring, MD). He started out as an English and Drama teacher in Washington area private schools, and co-founded Thornton Friends School in the 1970s. The school had a very innovative approach and great success, particularly in turning around “problem students.” Eventually he and his then-wife Nancy turned the school over to others to pursue other projects, and Dad has been “free-lancing” ever since, mainly training teachers in various school systems around the country, writing the books you mentioned, and doing extensive training within companies (Kodak, IDC and others).

Update: PK himself checks in with a comment to the original post.

Peter: If you get any of my letters from the Nobel Committee, will you please pass them on?

14 July 2009 at 1:23 pm Leave a comment

Will Macroeconomists Solve the Crisis?

| Benito Arruñada |

One may doubt it after observing that Ben Bernanke was one of those believing in the Great Moderation — the claim that macroeconomic volatility had been reduced. Macroeconomic policymaking seems to be as unsafe as firefighting: extinguishing small fires creates the conditions for hell. Shouldn’t macroeconomists learn something from forest management? (For a start: “Fire Must Be Ally in Forest Management.”) Of course, if coupled with an acid-suppressing pill, they could even dare to read Hayek’s “Pretence of Knowledge.”

14 July 2009 at 1:27 am 1 comment

Ken Lay as Political Capitalist

| Peter Klein |

This blog has taken a special interest in Ken Lay, not just because of his local connections but also because he typifies the modern CEO of a regulated industry, more lobbyist and PR man than manager. Lay, a long-time energy regulator before becoming Enron CEO, was skilled in the ways of Washington — making his reputation as poster-boy for “unbridled capitalism” all the more ironic.

Here is Rob Bradley, quoting from his book Political Capitalism, on Lay and Enron:

Who was Ken Lay, the architect and chairman of Enron from its formation in the mid-1980s until its bankruptcy? The once-celebrated visionary of the energy industry was not an engineer, as were most leaders in the energy sector. Lay did not possess an accounting or finance background, as did some senior executives. He never clawed his way up the corporate ladder in various operational divisions, much less built a company from scratch. No, Enron’s leader was a Ph.D. economist, interested in the big picture and the ways of political power. His résumé was top-heavy with Washington experience, acquired at three federal jobs, the last two regulating the energy industry. . . .

Government favor propelled Enron’s profit-centers in domestic power plants, natural gas and electricity marketing, wind and solar power, infrastructure in underdeveloped countries, and unconventional natural gas production. Enron was all about complex federal laws and administrative regulations, such as special provisions within the Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978, Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, and Energy Policy Act of 1992 — or FERC rulings such as Regulation of Natural Gas Pipelines after Partial Wellhead Decontrol (FERC Order No. 436: 1985), Pipeline Service Obligations and Revisions to Regulations Governing Self-Implementing Transportation Under Part 284 of the Commission’s Regulations (FERC Order No. 636: 1992), and Promoting Wholesale Competition Through Open Access Non-discriminatory Transmission Services by Public Utilities; Recovery of Stranded Costs by Public Utilities and Transmitting Utilities (FERC Order 888: 1996). The arcane was pure gold to Enron.

13 July 2009 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

Corrected Winter Quote

| Peter Klein |

I misquoted Sid Winter in this post. Here’s what he actually said:

“High standards for statistical techniques are tending to crowd out high standards for performance on the central scientific task, causal explanation.”

I was going from memory, then later found the exact wording in my notes. The meaning is the same, but I wanted to correct this for the historical record.

12 July 2009 at 3:08 pm 4 comments

Department of They Just Don’t Get It

| Peter Klein |

Paul Ehrlich, author (with Anne Ehrlich) of The Population Bomb (1968), one of the biggest, um, bombs of the last several decades, is unrepentant. Ehrlich’s main thesis was that the world was running out of natural resources, and population growth was expanding exponentially, leading to an inevitable decline in living standards. Needless to say, none of the three predictions came true, and Bomb became one of those books that cultural anthropologists study for its train-wreck value. Now, apparently for laughs, the Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development has invited the Ehrlichs to write “The Population Bomb Revisited” for a forthcoming symposium. After all these years, the Ehrlichs are no closer to grasping the Econ 101 concept of “resources,” namely means used by human actors to achieve desired ends — not physical stocks of raw materials, but raw materials interacted with human knowledge and purpose. (more…)

11 July 2009 at 3:27 pm 4 comments

The Sociological Imagination

| Peter Klein |

That’s the name of a new sociology blog started by grad students Josh McCabe, David Pontoppidan, and Brian Pitt. I’m already enjoying the first few posts. These guys are influenced by economics (in particular, Austrian economics), so watch out.

10 July 2009 at 1:33 pm 2 comments

New Directions for SSRN

| Peter Klein |

I see that registered users of SSRN can now post comments on other people’s papers. Maybe this feature has been around for some time but I just noticed it. Is this a small step toward open-source peer review? Or a move toward social networking? (What’s next, the SSRN status update or Super Poke?)

8 July 2009 at 8:25 am 3 comments

Does Economics Training Hinder Managers’ Ability?

| Benito Arruñada |

In a new paper with Xosé H. Vázquez we explore the consequences of using different behavioral assumptions in training managers on their future performance. We argue that training with an emphasis on the standard assumptions used in economics (rationality and self-interest) leads future managers to rely excessively on rational and explicit safeguarding, crowding out instinctive contractual heuristics and signaling a “bad” type to potential partners. In contrast, the behavioral assumptions used in management theories, because of their diverse, implicit, and even contradictory nature, do not conflict with the innate set of cooperative tools and may provide a good training ground for such tools.

We present tentative confirmatory evidence by examining how the weight given to behavioral assumptions in the core courses of the top 100 business schools influences the average salaries of their MBA graduates. Controlling for the average quality of their students and some other school characteristics, we find that average salaries are significantly higher at those schools whose core MBA courses contain a higher proportion of management courses as opposed to courses based on economics or technical disciplines. (more…)

8 July 2009 at 2:43 am 4 comments

McNamara

| Peter Klein |

f_659_whizKidsI haven’t read all the obituaries of Robert S. McNamara, who died early this morning, but the ones I’ve seen focus almost exclusively on his tenure as US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. Few mention how he got to be Secretary — an HBS professorship, WWII experience in procurement as a member of Tex Thornton’s “Whiz Kids,” a stint at Ford Motor Company after the war, and the presidency of Ford just before taking the job as Defense Secretary. The Times notes, in passing, that “Mr. McNamara had risen by his mastery of systems analysis, the business of making sense of large organizations — taking on a big problem, sorting it out, studying every facet, finding simplicity in the complexity.” Um, OK, I guess that’s one way to describe it. In any case, none of the obituaries I’ve seen so far discusses this in any detail, or seems to realize that McNamara’s approach to managing large organizations is controversial among researchers and practitioners.

Here’s a brief comment I made last year on McNamara’s management style.

6 July 2009 at 9:05 am 4 comments

How Active are Governments in the Morality Business?

| Benito Arruñada |

Brad Taylor doubts in his reaction to my previous post on organizations and markets in morality that:

The moral authority of the Church was anywhere near complete in even the most ardently Catholic societies. The Church claimed a monopoly on morality, and many people went along with it to a greater or lesser degree. This seems pretty close to what government does today. The state doesn’t simply create laws aimed at resolving the inevitable conflicts among people, but attempts to influence public opinion through various types of propaganda – telling people not to smoke or get drunk and dance, for example.

I would not claim that the Church enjoyed a monopoly, only that the production of morality was more organizational — i.e., it took place within organizations (the Church itself was divided in several organizations), was more centralized, and was made by specialized moralist experts (mainly, theologians and priests, but even with some specialization of priests between those who focused on taking care of parishes, preaching, and confessing). In contrast, I am inclined to think that morality is now produced more in the market: it is less centralized and is produced by generalists.

It is true, as Brad says, that governments play an increasing role, especially in many European countries where they (1) control most education, even introducing new mandatory courses on “Good Citizenship”; (2) run their own TV stations, with plenty of scope to manipulate its contents; and (3) are actively running advertising campaigns about everything from global warming to racism or the use of condoms.

However, there are many other powerful sources of morality that are purely market driven: e.g., Hollywood movies and commercial TV series; biologists, pop stars, and former politicians moonlighting as preachers for their favorite causes; reality shows; gossip media; and so on.

5 July 2009 at 8:25 am 1 comment

Inspirational Weekend Reading

| Nicolai Foss |

I am reading Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science in which Dr. Goldacre explodes the ridiculous claims of medical quacks of all stripes (e.g., homeopathy, the idiocies of the media re the interpretation of research results, hostility towards “mainstream medicine,” etc.). The book is much needed and very, very entertaining.

And it makes me think that management research needs its Goldacre. A few quick ideas:

  1. Perhaps we need something akin to the Cochrane Collaboration. We can all agree that “evidence-based management” is a good idea. Indeed, it is such a good idea that there should be no need for writing books or blogs about it. We should all embrace and internalize the idea. However, in practice, there is probably much too little effort devoted to meta-analysis and other synthetic efforts in management research.
  2. There are quacks in management. Some of them write books. Some consult. Shrugging the shoulder is the typical reaction on the part of management academics. Should we treat them more harshly? Should management quacks be identified and fought?
  3. Perhaps the majority of research articles in management end with a variation over “There is a need for more research.” Articles in medicine used to end similarly. However, as Goldacre notes (p. 57), “… it is a little known fact that this very phrase has been banned from the British Medical Journal for many years, on the grounds that it adds nothing: you may say what research is missing, on whom, how, measuring what, and why you want to do it, but the hand-waving, superficially open-minded call for ‘more research’ is meaningless and unhelpful.” Amen!

4 July 2009 at 11:05 am 4 comments

The Higher Education Bubble

| Peter Klein |

Will it be the next to burst? Yes, say Joseph Marr Cronin and Howard E. Horton. “Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering.” Of  course it is, which explains the unbridled hostility of the higher-ed establishment toward alternative organizational models. Adds Mark Taylor:

Make no mistake about it, education is big business and, like other big businesses, it is in big trouble. What people outside the education bubble don’t realize and people inside won’t admit is that many colleges and universities are in the same position that major banks and financial institutions are: their assets (endowments down 30-40 percent this year) are plummeting, their liabilities (debts) are growing, most of their costs are fixed and rising, and their income (return on investments, support from government and private donations, etc.) is falling.

These commentators do not, however, speculate on root causes. There’s no doubt the traditional model for producing higher education is grossly inefficient and that there’s been tremendous overinvestment in facilities and staff (malinvestment, in Austrian lingo) over many decades. But why, and why now? One hypothesis is that the democratization of higher education that began in the 1960s not only increased enrolments, but created a wedge between expectations of faculty (we’re here to create and disseminate knowledge and to challenge, engage, and enlighten our students — in the humanities, to teach them political slogans) and those of students (we’re here to party, find mates, and prepare for the job market). Another possibility is that political correctness has distorted the curriculum, creating large and well-funded departments in ethnic studies and postmodern literature with high overhead and few students, leaving insufficient resources for, and interest in, traditional subjects like math and history. What are some other  hypotheses? (Thanks to Dennis Lubahn for the pointers.)

4 July 2009 at 8:27 am 24 comments

Scott Shane Blogging at the NYT

| Peter Klein |

Scott joins the “You’re the Boss” blogging team (via Dane Stangler).

3 July 2009 at 4:06 am Leave a comment

The Professional Strategy of the Early Austrian Economists

| Peter Klein |

O&M, like other niche academic blogs, deals occasionally with the history and sociology of this or that school of economic or management thought. We think often about professional strategy — how to promote our ideas, how to secure financial and institutional support, how to recruit students and fellow-travelers (“groupies,” according to Nicolai), what competing and complementary movements and schools of thought (not to mention rival blogs) are up to, and so on.

Given our close association with the Austrian school, you might be surprised to learn that the founding Austrians were not at all “strategic” in this sense. They held strongly to the view that truth wins out in the long run, so there is no need to build formal institutions or establish a “movement.” This comes out in a passage from Mises’s recently released Memoirs (a new translation of his earlier Notes and Recollections):

It is necessary to correct the misunderstandings that can be called forth by using the expression “Austrian School.” Neither Menger nor Böhm-Bawerk wanted to found a school in the sense customarily used in university circles. They never attempted to turn young students into blind disciples, nor did they, in turn, provide these same students with professorships. They knew that through books and an academic course of instruction they could promote an understanding suited to dealing with economic problems, thus rendering an important service to society. They understood, however, that they could not rear economists. As pioneers and creative thinkers, they recognized that one cannot arrange for scientific progress, nor breed innovation according to plan. They never attempted to propagandize their theories. Truth would prevail of its own accord when man possessed the faculties necessary to perceive it. Using impertinent means to cause people to pay lip service to a teaching was of no use if they lacked the ability to grasp its substance and significance. (more…)

2 July 2009 at 3:26 am 7 comments

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

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